Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Conservative Trade Unionists (Annual Conference)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Hexagon Hall, Reading
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: Between 1200 and 1400.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2116
Themes: Autobiographical comments, Economy (general discussions), Employment, Industry, Monetary policy, Energy, Pay, Public spending & borrowing, Trade, Labour Party & socialism, Media, Religion & morality, Science & technology, Trade unions, Trade union law reform

This, the 29th Conservative Trade Unionist Conference is a demonstration of the constructive part played in trade union affairs by Conservative trade unionists.

Your organisation, and your Annual Conference will always be fresh in my mind, for it was at your Conference in 1975 that I first spoke to a Conservative Party National meeting as Leader of the Party.

Those of you here today are a reminder that whatever some trade union leaders may say, there are millions of trade unionists not committed to socialism.

Millions who do not share the Labour Party's depressing commitment to class warfare.

Those old class conflicts should have died long years ago. [end p1]

We know that millions of trade unionists vote Conservative at election after election …   . They endorsed our programme of union reform at the General Election only 18 months ago … and they have done so in every opinion poll since.

Your presence today is a reminder that many trade unionists do not share the views expressed in their names at the Labour Party Conference.

There must be doubts (to put it no higher than that) about the claims of some trade union leaders to express the broader political view of their members.

Despite the practical difficulties, in one union 344,000 out of 491,000 members have expressed their views by contracting out of the political levy. [end p2]

You are active trade unionists. You would not have given up your Saturday if you were not. But it is vital for others to follow your example.

I know that it is a daunting task to attend at interminable meetings at inconvenient times: that the normal reaction is all too likely to be, “I don't want to know. I just pay my dues and I let them get on with it.”

But those very words, ‘I don't want to know, let them get on with it’ express the alienation and indifference that corrode and destroy the very foundation of any democratic system. [end p3]

Democracy cannot be safely left to rest upon the efforts of the minority.

It has to be supported by the majority.

Nowhere is this more true than in the trade union movement. The sad truth is that the zeal of the left has exceeded the zeal of the right. We need more Tory activists.

Workers in the office or on the shop floor, blue collar or white collar, or no collar at all, all are responsible for their unions.

It is a responsibility which can neither be ducked, nor subcontracted, nor passed by.

But there are other responsibilities, above and beyond those to his trade union that fall upon every worker from the lowest to the highest paid. [end p4]

Someone is responsible to the customer for every pennyworth of all the goods and services which we produce.

If the rust breaks through the paint of a new car, or if an airline passenger's baggage goes to Bangkok instead of Birmingham, then someone has not done the job for which he is paid.

If a ship is late down the slipway, a planning application delayed, or a contract runs over cost, it is more likely by far to be an act of man than an act of God.

In recent years, we sometimes seem to have lost sight of that personal responsibility.

It goes with a respect for the job, and for the customer who pays. But more than that, with a self-respect that comes only from a job well done and fairly paid.

Jobs—I am only too painfully aware that we need nearly two million more jobs right across the country. [end p5]

No politician can be indifferent to the miseries and frustration of unemployment. No politician would seek to increase it. For human reasons, for political reasons, for economic reasons we want to see everyone with a job offering good prospects, personal satisfaction and a decent living.

But that objective will not be achieved by a shallow or superficial analysis of what causes unemployment any more than a doctor could prescribe a cure for a disease without a thorough diagnosis.

For those who are seeking work, it is little consolation to tell them that the Western world is in the midst of a deep recession. But it is true nonetheless.

Not only the Western world. The Communist world too has acute economic difficulties and political ones too.

But to return to the Western world— [end p6]

This week we heard that General Motors of America had losses of £200 million in the last quarter; and that Chrysler and Ford are suffering similar losses.

Massey Ferguson of Canada, which has subsidiary companies here, is experiencing profoundly serious problems.

Because the demand for steel has fallen, the European Nine agreed on Thursday a production quota for each country.

At the root of these difficulties is the 120 per cent increase in the price of oil over last year alone. This leaves people less to spend on other goods. Demand drops. Factories go on short time and some are forced to close. Profits turn into losses. [end p7]

Against this grim background some countries will ride a recession better than others. Those like Germany and Switzerland which have rigorously and habitually pursued a policy of sound money and good financial housekeeping have much lower unemployment, and will come through a recession less painfully.

Those which have fewer restrictive practices and therefore higher productivity are more competitive. In a world of shrinking demand, where price, quality, design, delivery matter more than ever before, such countries have a chance of getting more orders.

Those nations and people who have welcomed and used the latest technologies and new equipment to the full are now benefiting from the new science-based industries and the jobs they provide.

How do we in Britain measure up to these international tests? [end p8]

Sound money and good financial housekeeping?

From time to time we have taken this prescription of sound money and good financial housekeeping. But we gave up because we didn't like the pain and discomfort that any medicine can cause when it starts to take effect. So we sought the easy option, but it always led to harder times—to worse inflation followed by more unemployment. Today we know that excess money creates the fever of inflation. Yet it is suggested that we are somehow jeopardising the future of industry by giving top priority to defeating inflation. I tell you that inflation is the biggest destroyer of all—of industry, of jobs, of savings, and of society. Surely, it is folly to diagnose the disease and to know the cure but to lack the courage to prescribe or the tenacity to take the medicine? [end p9]

Restrictive Practices?

Britain has been the natural home of restrictive practices. They are the enemy of prosperity. Those who indulge in them are guilty of deception if they pretend they can defend their interests in that way, except at the expense of other people's jobs or at the risk of their own. [end p10] You have only to look at the closures in Fleet Street to realise that restrictive practices can lose jobs. Why else did the London Evening News print its last copy yesterday evening? Why else is Lord Thomson trying to sell The Times?

The problems of Fleet Street have not been caused by the strong pound nor by high interest rates. They have been caused in Fleet Street itself.

Technology and Science-based industries

Time and again British ideas and research have created new products and new processes. We have been renowned for that. The tragedy is that all too often our ideas have been developed abroad in countries where people embrace innovation, back new enterprise and seize the opportunity of new jobs. [end p11] But, Mr. President,

I believe that the climate of opinion is changing.

People are realising that protecting old jobs won't produce new ones and that in the end the old jobs, too, will be lost.

People are realising that if we are to be better off we must work for higher production not simply agitate for higher pay.

People are realising that printing more money does not create more prosperity or more jobs, it just puts up more prices. [end p12]

Mr. President, if simply printing and spending more money would cure our problems we should by now be one of the wealthiest nations in the Western world. — In the lifetime of the last Labour Government the amount of money in the economy went up by £20 thousand million but the number of jobs did not increase. Indeed, unemployment doubled and prices more than doubled too. — In the last three years (1976–79) the amount of money in the economy went up by 50%; but yet only 4%; went into output, the rest into higher prices and imports.

The record is clear, printing money doesn't create jobs, it only creates more inflation. [end p13]

But there is another word for printing money—they call it “reflection” . It is a cosy word but a fraudulent device. It cuts the value of every pound in circulation, of every pound the thrifty have saved. It means spending money you can't afford, haven't earned and haven't got.

You would accept that it is neither moral nor responsible for a family to live beyond its means. Equally it is neither moral nor responsible for a Government to spend beyond the nation's means, even for services which may be desirable.

So we must curb public spending to amounts that can be financed by taxation at tolerable levels and borrowing at reasonable rates of interest. [end p14]

Yet, reflection is the policy urged upon the Government by the TUC and by our opponents. The truth is that while demonstrating their concern for the unemployed, which we share, they are nevertheless suggesting measures which would debase the coinage and lengthen the dole queues. It is only by persevering with the policy of living within our means that we can build a soundly based economy, achieve long term prosperity and a high and stable level of employment.

That is the way for those who truly care for the future of our country and the well being of our young people.

We must not be put off by arguments about whether the M3 money supply controls are working to precise plan. The exercise of financial control by Government is not an exact science. [end p15]

The fact is we are getting inflation down; it will fall further.

We are moving towards a fitter and more competitive industrial base.

Inefficiency is being attacked. In many firms productivity is improving.

Management is more vigorous and enterprising.

The balance of trade is in the black and has confounded the forecasters.

We must now consolidate these gains and build a secure economic base from which we can expand when world recession comes to an end and world trade grows again. [end p16]

A great deal of politicians' time is taken up with economic matters. Yet, although the wrong economic policy can go a long way to ensuring failure, correct economic policy cannot of itself guarantee success. Economic success is a reflection of human values, of human morality, of human qualities.

The amazing economic development of the past two centuries, greater than occurred in the previous history of civilisation, was made possible by great non-economic changes and this country was in the lead. Stable constitutional government: freedom under the law involving a sense of duty, public and private; an attitude to work which saw it as a virtue as well as a necessity. [end p17]

The City of London became the world's great financial centre, more because of its reputation for honesty than for any geographical or political reasons. Englishmen were famous for their hard work, thrift, reliability, intellectual curiosity, literary and scientific pre-eminence. It was not neat, ready formulae, nor instant explanations, but personal qualities that were the secret of our economic success. If we lose them, we decline economically. That is the lesson to be learned from British history. [end p18]

Today, we find a growing respect for these very qualities, which I believe marks the beginning of a change of attitudes. They are an essential ingredient if we are to achieve our goal, which is so much more than price stability. The goal of a prosperous, enterprising, wealth-creating society whose people can benefit from the rewards of their own efforts and provide generously for those in need. The processes of economic change will not be easy, and we realise they will bear heavily on some people: especially on those who want a job but cannot get one; on those who started new businesses with such high hopes and who are now going through hard times; And we are very much aware that the standard of living of the sick and the old will depend on our success. It is timely to recall the words of the first Queen Elizabeth when, after an earlier period of inflation, she restored the coinage in 1561. [end p19] It would, she remarked, involve temporary discomfort, “not much unlike to them, that being sick receive a medicine, and in the taking feel some bitterness, but yet thereby recover health and strength, and save their lives.”

419 years on, the message is the same. The second Queen Elizabeth 's First Minister could not have put it better.